Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Say Hello to Hero and Kickflip

South Korea is light-years ahead of us with their handheld device market.

Now we can do more than just envy them. Helio shows us how.

Play MPEG4 and H264 Movies on your phone? Yup. Music? Yup. Gaming? Oh yeah. WiFi? Coming soon.

big momma's ... what?! :o

big momma's ... what?! :o
Originally uploaded by chrisholland.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

His Magazine

His Magazine
Originally uploaded by chrisholland.

Dijjer: Future of Online Media Distribution?

Josh just pointed me to Dijjer.

It looks fantastic. Here's why I think it's better than BitTorrent, keeping in mind i've only read their FAQ, and haven't done extensive testing of it.

BitTorrent doesn't work through NAT. It actually works, but only in leech-mode. Which means, if you're an average non-techy user behind a broadband router's default-configured NAT, install BitTorrent and download files from other peers, you actually do not contribute any bandwidth back to the rest of the network, because other machines on the Internet don't have a clue on how to reach you. Of course, it's very easy for someone with a little bit of tech savvy to do the necessary port forwarding. But realistically, on a large scale, who ever bothers?
update: ok it would appear the above paragraphs are angering armies of geeks. Take a deep breath as I concede your collective point with the following: Yes, if your BitTorrent client already has an active connection while downloading from a peer, that peer will be able to get data from you, and you're therefore indeed "contributing bandwidth" back, to some extent. I've experienced this first-hand. It's nice. But if I'm behind NAT, and I don't have port forwarding, and you're behind NAT, and you don't have port forwarding either, then our BitTorrent clients won't exchange data directly from each-other. Period. Is this a big deal? Obviously not, as there are enough people out there with properly set-up connectivity to keep BitTorrent a successful and vibrant community ... of mostly geeks who know what they're doing. I'm looking at a different market. I'd like to see a peer-to-peer solution that enables a wider audience to become first-rate bandwidth contributors. With some maturation and polishing, working out a few kinks, it would appear dijjer just might get us there.
It's not impossible to defeat the vast majority of NAT issues in the wild. The STUN protocol, released around 2003, tells us how to do it. Most SIP-enabled client software and devices make use of it, to avoid having to relay RTP packets between peers.

Dijjer claims to be able to defeat most NAT issues. And I wouldn't be surprised if it used many of the techniques outlined in the STUN protocol.

It also looks far easier to deploy than BitTorrent, as most of the work of finding peers seems to be handled by the clients. It may or may not be a good thing, it looks like they use some "seed peers" to establish initial contact. But they've removed the need for the content owner/deployer to create anything "special" on their server. They just need to link to their a file a bit differently. And as their FAQ mentions, the file's presence on the original HTTP server is used for policing its distribution over the dijjer network: If a file lives on your web server, and you decide to link to it via dijjer, then subsequently change your mind, you can just remove it from your server, and nobody on the dijjer network will be able to download it.

On the peer's machine, it appears to expose a lightweight http interface on a high port. When you're downloading a file, the browser actually retrieves it over normal http from localhost, over port 9115. If you've installed dijjer, try this URL: http://localhost:9115/. It seems to be a technique vaguely similar, in principle, to what certain "web accelerators" do. The fact that as a user, I don't have to "switch" to another application to merely download a file, before resuming web browsing back into the web browser, makes the whole experience more usable, less clunky, less nerdy.

It also opens the doors for 3rd-party applications to interface with Dijjer via straight HTTP, without having to write custom components that comply to a different protocol. These folks might one day likely be interested in switching from BitTorrent to Dijjer.

One thing to keep in mind is that dijjer wants to keep running in the background. When double-clicking that .jar in Mac OS X, it's not readily obvious that dijjer is running. You can easily shut it down via http://localhost:9115/, or, on the Mac, a "killall java" from the terminal. I haven't tested Linux and Windows yet. Their FAQ also mentioned that dijjer might pre-emptively start "caching" stuff on your hard drive, stuff you may have never requested, but that's useful to other people on the dijjer network. But again, a peek at http://localhost:9115/ tells you what it's doing, how much space on your hard drive is being used, and your download/upload activity. Before putting-on the tinfoil hats, remember that dijjer is 100% open-source, and verifiably crap-ware free.

In contrast, with BitTorrent, you'll only ever seed files you've previously downloaded, or are in the process of downloading. BitTorrent is very-much more of a "foreground" process.

Going forward, dijjer will likely mature and become more polished. It's already very usable, and very promising.

A few replies to some comments in the digg submission:

I *did say* you *can* make BitTorrent work through NAT to enable other peers to 1) discover you 2) connect to you without your having previously connected to them, *if* and only *if* you do port forwarding, as outlined in the BitTorrent FAQ which i linked to in the article. As i mentioned in my review, it is simple enough for us geeks, but not for your average newbie. Having out-of-the-box NAT traversal support dramatically increases your potential user base.

When you look at peer to peer frameworks, you've gotta distinguish a few aspects of the peer to peer features. Two of which are: 1) file and peer discovery. 2) distributed file transfer.

Some peer to peer frameworks have a highly decentralized file and peer discovery mechanism, and those are nicely suited for illegal sharing of files.

Other peer to peer frameworks, such as BitTorrent and Dijjer do not seek to make the file discovery aspect decentralized, because their designers didn't seek to build a rebel or illegal file sharing network. That's why it's so easy for the RIAA to go after torrent sites today. And Dijjer is even more tightly coupled to the source than BitTorrent is, as it is a feature.

There are people out there who don't use peer to peer technology to share illegal content.

The folks (Nicholas Reville, of fame and many more) behind have embedded their own BitTorrent client within their TV player to save bandwidth for the various content providers. And that's already very cool. Integrating Dijjer instead of (or in addition to?) BitTorrent into their client might make their platform even more efficient. One of their developers has mentioned to me they've indeed been looking at dijjer.

The end-game of legal use of peer to peer technologies is a new framework for content distribution. Profound disruptions of today's media. Pretend for a second that something such as dijjer, or something better, gets wide adoption, among the masses. And i'm talking about the real masses, our Moms and Dads, with their home broadband connectivity and plenty of bandwidth to share.

Say you suddenly decide to become your own movie producer and director, and you manage to make movies people are actually interested in watching, and perhaps eventually buying. In a dijjer-enabled world, you could likely serve your movie from any normal web account with a low bandwidth quota, but link to it through a dijjer-ised link.

Unlike with bittorrent, you didn't have to purchase a special hosting account at a BitTorrent provider (prodigem are cool guys), nor did you have to set-up your own BitTorrent server/tracker. You just uploaded the file to your web account, but instead of giving this url to your friends: , you gave them this url: .

I'm interested in peer to peer technologies to replace traditional media. Not to illegally share the crap they shove at my TV. Hence the title of this blog post.

Esme Vos, Wireless Warrior

The Wall Street Journal offers a great introduction of Esme Vos, possibly the most effective advocate of Municipal Wireless efforts in the World. I know she helped us out advocate our way past Cable and Phone Companies-backed fear-mongering, back when we first deployed our WiFi Network in Hermosa Beach in 2004.
In the future, she sees wireless networks nearly everywhere, not just for Web access but for voice services as well. "It will shrink the traditional business model dramatically," she says. Traditional telecom companies, she argues, will be forced to form partnerships with Internet companies to offer next-generation services. "They'll have to change," she says.
The article gives you a good insight into how far your local Telco will go to protect their monopoly, and offers good counterpoints to their typical rhetoric.

See also: Net Neutrality and the Sorry State of U.S. Broadband

Friday, February 03, 2006

Net Neutrality and the Sorry State of U.S. Broadband

Most French citizens can get 24Mbps/2Mbps Internet connectivity that includes unlimited local/long distance calling, plus TV and Cable channels, for 30 Euros per month. Japan? Fiber everywhere. All those services are available from many fiercely competing companies. Just take a walk in Parisian subways and look at the various "Haut Debit" (high speed) advertisements to see just what i'm talking about: Wanadoo. Club-Internet. Cegetel. Claranet. To name a very few.

Many countries such as Japan and France have succeeded in the broadband field, paradoxically, precisely because of Government intervention: at some point they decreed that copper phone lines to their constituents' houses were no-longer the sole operating property of the local phone company. After all, phone companies have in most countries throughout history consistently enjoyed comfortable government subsidies to deploy their infrastructure, when not owned and operated by governments themselves.

The Industry jargon defines this process as Local Loop Unbundling. It provides a framework for allowing competing companies to leverage today's infrastructure to offer their own broadband-internet-powered services: Voice and Video communications, interactive, custom-tailored entertainment. E-mail and "the Web" are "so" 1995 and no-longer the "killer applications" of the Internet. They're insanely useful starting points.

Having enjoyed comfortable taxpayer-subsidized monopolies for the better part of a century, such competitive landscapes are a direct conflict of interest for the traditional phone companies.

In the U.S., they've been rabidly lobbying to keep their monopolies intact, under the guise of preserving our cherished capitalistic principles, by parroting feel-good phrases in the wrong context: "Government Involvement is bad! Let market forces do their thing!". But in this case, we're talking about network infrastructure. It makes perfect sense for local government to largely subsidize and work with the private sector on the deployment of such infrastructure, and lease access to it, at cost, to all businesses willing to compete. It is a far more efficient approach, at long last enabled by today's technological advances and the Internet Protocol.

Consider another type of infrastructure: sidewalks. A municipality might happily front costs, or work with private developers to build sidewalks in an affluent area to attract new tax-revenue-generating businesses. In today's broadband landscape, we're looking at a narrow sidewalk with a 2-story Verizon shopping center on it, and perhaps an SBC shop 2 miles down the road.

As we blindly grant "right-of-way" to companies such as Verizon, letting them pony-up all the costs of digging trenches in our streets to deploy fiber connectivity in a few lucrative areas, we can't refuse them the right to solely own and operate this network. But few, if no other companies can afford similar deployments on their own, and Verizon will hence have very little incentive to compete on the quality of services they offer, because after all, they're the only ones in the game.

Nothing will prevent them to limit what it is we can do with the bandwidth they offer us, such as obtaining phone or video service from 3rd-party providers.

And this touches on the issue of Net Neutrality which Dave Coustan is covering quite well over at EarthLing.

See also: Fire your Phone Company. Today.

See also: Net Neutrality, Clear Disclosure?

See also: If we build it, they will come.

update: 2/15 See also: this great comment on somebody else's blog:
v) Network neutrality
I don’t know if you misunderstood the network neutrality concept or not, but your analogy is way off. If major airlines were allowed to act like telcos on network neutrality then the airline would be allowed to charge different prices on the same seat on the same flight depending on your FINAL destination. “Going to France after spending the weekend in NY with your sister? That’ll be $500 extra, ’cause we don’t like them frogs at United.”

Fire Your Phone Company. Today.

If you live in Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, you're in luck. Unlike the rest of us, you have the effortless opportunity to fire your phone company today. More cities are coming soon.

For the computers in your house:
  • 8Mbps downstream DSL Service (i think the upstream is 1Mbps)
  • comprehensive computer protection suite (virus, spyware, spam, phishers, popups, firewall, etc.) (earthlink protection control center)
  • and the works: 8 virtual accounts, each with their own e-mail, SIP address/free online calling, web space, start page, etc.
For the humans who like to chat in your house:
  • Unlimited Local and Long Distance Calling
  • And the works: Voicemail, Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, 3-Way Calling, Online Account Management, Call Blocking, etc.
All you need is a phone jack and $70/month, to cover all of your home hyper-speed Internet connectivity, computer security, and communications needs.

The meat: It's a partnership between Covad, and EarthLink. This service is also known as "LPV" or Line-Powered Voice. It leverages Covad's newly-rolled-out "ADSL2" network. Essentially, EarthLink and Covad become your phone service provider, when the "switch" is made.

Just keep your phones plugged-in their normal phone sockets, no nerdy setup, nothing. Then pick-up your phone, as you normally do, hear the same dial-tone as always, and dial-away. No additional hardware is required for your phones. You'll just get a special superfast broadband modem for your in-house computer network.

Blam, you're done.

Phone companies have enjoyed sweet local monopolies for far too long. This is about to change. Big time. Covad is wheeling and dealing with many local DSL providers. Expect ferocious competition in this field.

See also Net Neutrality and the Sorry State of U.S. Broadband